It’s all good and proper for people to write grand novels that win them awards. My hat goes off to all the writers who attend book festivals and hold tedious talks that are essentially about how intelligent they are. I’m all for Nobel Laureates being guest lectures at prestigious universities and having seminars on post-apartheid, post post-apartheid, post modernist, realism, whatever whatever – a rousing round of applause to all of that. Be that as it may, it’s the reading that happens away from the hullaballoo of the literary world that matter most.

Revolution begins with the simple act of a child reading a book. Despite the rash of reasons we have to not read due to bewildering advances in technology and the plethora of garish forms of entertainment, it’s the simplicity of reading that remains the most effective tool for changing the world. I’d rather not get bogged down with studies and findings but suffice it to say that in South Africa the provinces with the most school libraries are the provinces with the highest Matric pass rates.

Hence any movement that’s about getting kids to read gets my full attention. I recently stumbled upon The Harmony High Series. Published by the Cape Town based publisher Cover2Cover the series aims to create an environment of conversation with teenagers about the things they go through. Harmony High is a fictitious high school in a fictitious hood, but the trials the characters go through are real to the teens who read them. I like that the series has found a way of addressing social ills without being condescending. Remember Yiza Yizo? Well this is the PG version.

The secret maybe in that writers Dorothy Dryer and Ros Hayden involve student in the conceptualization of the stories. Dorothy explains, “We have a small team of writers. They need to be quite experienced, and able to work together to plot stories carefully across the series. We then test the material with learners.”

Publishing and writing can be a rather haughty affair. Everyone is reaching for that shining prize, sadly in the process the accessibility of the clean wonder that word on paper gets lost.  The beauty is that by keeping it simple and getting the kids reading genuinely excited about the grand art that is the written word you end up inspiring a generation of great writers. Tomorrows Nobel Prize for Literature winners are reading the Harmony High series today.

I spoke to Dorothy, a former English teacher at LEAP Science and Maths Schools. Her passion for getting her students to read for pleasure was the impetus for the founding of Cover2Cover Books. Besides having taught English at a range of schools, Dorothy has written many textbooks and school readers…

What prompted you to create it?

I was teaching at LEAP, a school for learners from Langa. I really wanted them to come to love reading as much as I do, but I found there were not enough accessible, exciting and relevant books for them to enjoy. Because I have done my own writing, and worked for publishers, I thought: I can do this! So I asked my writer friend Ros Haden to work on the first one, and I started testing it on my classes. They LOVED it.

What makes reading such an important activity?

Reading develops our imagination, our empathy, our language skills – everything that makes us human, really!

What do you hope to have achieved in 10 years time through Harmony High?

My dream would be to see teens reading a range of books for enjoyment – and to feel that our Harmony High books showed a generation of teens that reading is something that can be meaningful and enriching for them. It would be great to have many Harmony High titles out, and have readers waiting impatiently for the next one!

Are there support groups/clubs that work alongside the series of books?

FunDza Literacy Trust does encourage reading groups to use the books, and they give our books to these groups.

Please tell us about yourselves (Ros and Dorothy). What else have you written, careers, education?

Ros has written many children’s readers, and has also written an award winning adult novel, The Tin Church, and is busy on her next one. She is also co-writing, with me, Dorothy, a series of novels for 8 to 12 year olds that Penguin Books is publishing. The first one, Time Twisters: Cape of Slaves, came out this year.

I, Dorothy, have written a teen novel that Maskew Miller published, called Reading the Wind, and am also working on an adult novel. Both Ros and I have also written many textbooks!

What is important to remember/do when writing for a teen audience?

I guess it’s important not to ‘talk down’ to teens. They are exploring feelings and the world in a new and intense way, and books need to tap into that without preaching to them. I think you have to love reading teen novels yourself, actually, to write them well!

Why have you switched to a male protagonist for you new release Too Young To Die?

We want both boys and girls to relate to the characters in our books – and it is easier to relate to someone your gender. We also know that up till now our main fans have been girls – we want to get boys reading too. But that’s not to say that boys don’t enjoy the other books too!

Where can one get the books from? Are they free, if not how much do they cost?

They cost R60 and it’s best to order them over the internet:info@cover2cover.co.za. Some bookstores do stock them, and we are looking at getting them into more.

The literacy trust called FunDza does give a limited amount of them to literacy organizations and very under-resourced schools.

 

This article originally appeared on Ellipsis http://neverendingellipsis.blogspot.co.za/2012/08/harmony-high-series.html on the 10th of August 2012